Fall is Falling

When the kids are at the bus stop, they're often up in the ornamental cherry tree, shaking the leaves down. "Look Mom! It's fall! The leaves are falling!"


Last week, John and I went up and drove the "Peak to Peak" highway and got some splendid pictures and talked over the whole idea of my going to Clarion West.

Fall on the Peak to Peak


Click on 'em, and I have a half a dozen of the pictures up on Flickr...

But it was beautiful, the aspen colors last for such a little time here, as the wind or the cold takes them far faster than on the East Coast. And the color variations aren't nearly as neat as out eat. Still... it's beautiful when the wind blows through and all the gold trembles against the dark green of the dying pines. The pine beetles here will devastate the pine population here, but that will leave more room for the aspens.

So... with the writing. I have this... bad habit.

I love learning curves. The steeper the better, the faster I can hit them and the more I learn the happier I am. The problem is that I really don't care if I get good or not. I mean, I care if I get better, but not *good* enough to... whatever. Once I get good at something I kind of stop and tackle something else. Only with technical stuff did I stick around to gain the benefits of *being* good at it. As obvious rather recent examples after I'd done this I stopped knitting lace and after doing this I stopped doing color work. After making 'enough' I simply stopped doing technical work and haven't really looked back at doing it again. Also probably why I jumped to a new job every three years (okay, the hikes in pay weren't bad either); and the only way the last job kept me so long was that we belonged to three different companies and then I started swapping around jobs within Xilinx. After creating a ton and a half of produce at the OUR center garden, I've dropped off on vegetable gardening drastically. We're flooded in tomatoes, but I don't have to prove myself again. After giving birth to Jet, I've had no interest in another kid.

Thing is... I'm getting good at writing. Good at the long pieces and developing character and plot, and that's what I wanted to do with Twin Souls. Get a long piece done that really develops a lot of stuff and then uses it all at the end and really work hard on sharpening my detailing, my physical descriptions, and my ability to not just plan but execute on a complex plot that covers a lot of time and development on the part of the characters.

The interesting thing is that in thinking about doing Clarion West it's really different, it's all short story oriented. It's still writing, but... it's an entirely different form. It's like getting fixated on socks when I really want to do that sweater. And thinking about it, I guess my recent drabble/bedtime story fixes have already been a symptom of my trying to get away from the multi-chapter form I was hoping to master, first. And getting involved with authors that are more into original stuff seems to be another symptom that I'm starting to get restless about what I've been doing.

Talking it over with John, Clarion West might be more of a distraction than a real help. I'm pretty confident, now, that I could do a really solid novel in six months, if I can bring the end of Twin Souls in. What I probably should be doing now is starting to poke at a novel and some original characters for that in trying to figure out what the through line for a novel would be. And if I start that then I'd have something else 'fun' to work on as a buffer for finishing Twin Souls, so I don't hang back on finishing it without something else to do. Or... perhaps just plan the novel so that I have something solid to look forward to if I finish the long fic.

But between the time spent applying, the writing of four short stories for all the venues, and then the expense and time involved in the workshop itself, if I locked myself in an apartment/week hotel WITHOUT Internet access for a week at time I'd get far more done on a novel for the same expense... and it wouldn't tempt my inner demons about dealing with people. Kelly, in my original post, had a very good observation. If I can't even do a church meeting without it draining the heck out of me, why I would think I could deal with a roomful of people taking stabs at my writing, I just don't know. If I went this other way, it would let me just write.

And, the odd thing, is that part of my mind is convinced now that if *I* think I could do Clarion West, then I might be good enough just to do it on my own. Given my legendary self-doubt in my writing in the past, this is a huge thing. John noticed that, for the first time in my life, I actually sound like I know how well I can write, now. And, if for no other reason, these past nine months were worth spending just to get that confidence. He's willing to invest in six weeks of time completely without me around to help with Jet, but only if it's actually for the goal I really want. And, heck, even if I just concentrated on doing the novel instead of short story stuff... that might be good enough even without time alone in a room...
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If you want to write and desire peer review feedback, then might I suggest joining the OWW (onlinewritersworkshop.com). It's a great place to network and find like-minded writers whom you might end up relying on for your sanity check regarding your fiction. It's one of those places I highly recommend for people who desire a community and are looking for people to connect with. It's easy to join, costs very little, and in the end, you might end up with a tight knit support group. Many do including successfully published writers.

If you want to hear from a particular group of writers who have been published and who may or may not have interesting advice to help you, then there are a lot of different writing workshops--Clarion is just one. Check Locusmag.com for some listings or other SFF resources.

Not everyone needs a workshop or peer group or support system. But all writers need an unbiased eye on the work at some point in the evolution of the book/story, if only to give reader feedback and to see the forest for the trees. Every writer needs an editor, an outside voice to keep the writer balanced and in check. I just happen to do it professionally; John *might* be a good eye, but really, you will need someone who is not necessarily emotionally tied to you--unless you're fine with receiving criticism of your work and don't take it personally.

A reader friend will be different than a writer friend. A Reader will look at your story/book for entertainment; a Writer will look at the execution of the entertainment. Your mileage will vary based on the experience of your circle and whether they have the tools to express what did or didn't work for you. A reader telling you that "they didn't like the ending" is not the same as a reader telling you "they didn't like the ending because they expected something else to happen based on what happened in the last half of the book, and you didn't deliver it convincingly". Do you see the difference?

If you can self-edit your work, then you might need only an end reader who can point out big glaring plot holes and small typos.
Oh, no, John couldn't be that other eye. He's just willing to do the support work he can do. He's not even really a Reader, as he doesn't... well... read fiction, much.

I do need the outside eye. Heck, even with what I've been doing, having the 'beta' who can look at it without real emotional attachment and really point out plot holes or real problems with what's going on and figure out what the problem has been precious. I have a couple of people that might be able to do that through the fandom stuff. I'd be happy to pay you to do that if I figured out it was good enough for that, honestly. I would value your input tremendously when I get to that point. I'm not there, yet.

But I have learned that while I can do some editing of my stuff, having the outside opinion go, wow... that works... or wow... there's this that has to be fixed, is really, really important. Having Cera peer at Thorn and Ash, and Genevieve go over every inch of Twin Souls has improved what they are and are going to be by leaps and bounds.

I'll check out the other support stuff, too.

But, yeah... many more than just the one path I was looking at, and some of them far closer to where I really want to head, I think.
probably what you really need is just a CP (critique partner) ... they read over your stuff and critique it (imagine that *grins*) point out typos, grammar mistakes, and poke at the things that don't work quite right ... kinda works out equal to a hellishly good beta in fandom world ... or just one that gives a crap about the story.
hm. I think that's basically the kind of person Crimini's talking about.

Someone that has enough experience and expertise with structuring to go... look... these promises aren't fulfilled by yours story...

The distinction she made is important, and she's right. I need to find someone like that. and, for that matter, it wouldn't hurt to get good enough to BE someone like that, too.

Edited at 2008-10-06 10:39 pm (UTC)
*nods* yep. also someone who can point out if something is too obvious ... it's not half as much fun to read something if the reader can see exactly who the bad guy is 100 pages before the writer reveals who the bad guy is. I've read a few books before that were pretty good but could have been so much better if I hadn't figured out who the bad guy was a hundred pages into the book. So many writers try to use misdirection, pointing at this other person over here, trying to make you think they're the bad guy, but still giving this other person over there some face time for no apparent reason and makes it way too obvious.

tisk tisk ... discounting your merit again ... you ARE good enough to be someone like that.
Bear in mind this is only my experience talking here but it never hurts to get opinions, right?

When I write original works, I usually choose about 6 people to be part of my reader group. I try to go for diversity in the group. I have a couple who are pure readers. I have a couple who read/edit for me and i try and get a couple who are other writers/published authors.

I tell them up front that I want honest opinions on the story. I will say to ignore most spelling/grammar errors (unless they're very glaring) as what I'm after in the initial read is to know what works and what doesn't and sometimes, how they think I can fix it.

I also stress that I'm not asking for a multi page thesis on it, but that I do need feedback. Honest feedback is probably the most valuable tool a writer can get. This is where it can get tricksy when choosing the people to read for you as if they are really good friends or big fans, you may not get a 100% honest response as they want to encourage you not discourage you if something really doesn't fly.

For me, a critique group like you're exploring going to wouldn't work for me because it seems much to much like school work. While I enjoy learning, I'm not much of a write on demand person and I really loathe having to work within a specific framework with regards to my writing. Ornery and contrary I am.
Well, sometimes it hurts to get an opinion, but never when it's an opinion from personal experience because even when those hurt, it's useful to take them into account. *grins*

That's really cool that you have that large a group of folks you can work with. It *is* hard to get honest opinions from fans, certainly, and I have had that problem. It's kind of frustrating to have quite a few people that I know really believe in my writing, but don't have the words to say why... *laughs*

But fandom has found me probably three or four people that I think that can give me honest critique, and whom have offered some good observations in the past. I had probably three or four from my friend base whom I've fought with and worked with enough to trust them to give me a really honest opinion on things, and trust Crimini enough to probably pay her as a professional to do what has to be done after.

I hadn't realized just how many there were until you posted this comment. *laughs* The riches I find simply by looking.

*grins* at the last. That is very, very valuable indeed. Though I work best on demand... so that's going to be interesting for me. I'll probably be far more productive when I have an advance and I know someone is WAITING on me than I do if no one but me cares what I get out. Having been a massive stress puppy my entire career, at least I know that of myself.

Deadlines are my life's blood and they're nearly no good if I set them myself unless I know someone is depending on me for the end date. THAT is going to be hard for me to work through.
I was fortunate enough to have somebody who is an editor in RL offer to do the final edits for me for Blind Desire. That was a huge help and I can't thank her and the others who offered their opinions and encouragement along the way.

I can get things done on a deadline. The stress of it is simply very, very bad for me (hello stroke). I've no idea how I'd be able to write on demand for a publishing house. I don't think I could without my health suffering and I refuse to do that any more.

You'll generally find all kinds of people offering to help you do beta work. Sadly, it's sometimes just that people want a sneak peak at what you're going to have than for any genuine desire to help you put out a good story. How you tell those people from the ones who'll really help you out... gut instinct?

I've also found it's pretty valuable to offer to beta for other writers (which I know you do). Sometimes, we don't realize we're doing certain things until we see something similar in another writer's work. It's also one of those... do unto others deal, I think. You offer your time/opinion/skills and people will be willing to reciprocate with you when you need the services.
I think the fanfic beta exercise is useful that way. I can figure out who does what level of work on what I send 'em. It's a practical way to weed out the folks that are willing to say what and what level of detail they notice in a story is another way to get diversity.

Then when I do get to an original, I have some idea of who does what and how good they are. I wouldn't trust my gut for that.

OOOoooo... yes. Stress is BAD for you. Definitely.

It's good that you don't make your health suffer. I... it's an odd addiction for me, but I need stress to produce well and feel like I'm running at full speed. I went cold turkey for a while, but as soon as started writing, old habits have kicked back in.

And, yes to the last, it really is proving to be very valuable to offer my time to others. I think the writers' group thing is proving interesting as well, to find folks that do and don't have the same level of... concerns.

Edited at 2008-10-07 06:33 am (UTC)
Writers are a slightly weird neurotic bunch by nature. But, get a bunch of us together and some rather surprising things can come of it that help each other.

If this group thing that you've been looking into is the way to go for you and you have the opportunity, I say go for it. Even if you only come away from the experience with a few new ideas/tools, it'll have been worth it, no?

And if you wanna be a stress bunny about writing to a deadline, have you considered doing Nano? I've done it twice. I don't think I'll be doing it this year though as I have nothing ready to go for it.
I did Nano last year, but did it in the form of getting out 50,000 words of ideas that were all in my head at that time. So it ended up being something like seven novel starts, which was cool for just that purpose. But no endings, and not a great feeling for where they would end up or *go* really. I need to do a lot of background work on two or three of them, I think, and figure out the main structure.

But they were a start, and a realization that I hadn't actually finished anything. So there's a lot of seedlings to work from that.

Yeah, writing groups get interesting, and the play of ideas always helps me go further than I would normally go. THAT I've gotten in spades from fanfic... and that's really fun. Thank you for your part in that. *smiles*
You know, something that might give you a good deadline is writing that book outline and the first chapter or two, and then sending it out to agents.

Once you've got an agent, he or she will want to start shopping it to publishers, and presto! you've got some deadline pressure.

Then, if the agent sells your book, you'll definitely have deadline pressure.

You can find an agent using one of the Writer's Digest books or by Googling or by asking your published friends whether their agent might be willing to look at your outline, if not to take you on as a client then to steer you toward someone s/he knows who would be a good match for you.

But all of this takes time, so you could finish Twin Souls, swapping back and forth with this nascent project, and poking around for a possible agent. You've got a loose time table and some goals. Once Twin Souls is done and you've got something to show to an agent, the deadlines will start to appear.

(When the student is ready, the deadline will appear!)

I think a week in a hotel room with no Internet except to email bits to beta readers would be much better for you than a 6 week program, living & writing & critiquing with other people.

(If the immersion elements still appeal, there are also weekend-long and one-week intensives with nearly the same prestige as Clarion.)
Ooooo... very good idea. I may well just do that... and, yeah, there's lots of places to find people to send stuff to.

And, yeah, my life is such that I know that the deadline will appear when I'm ready for it, whether or not I *feel* like I'm ready for it. *laughs*

I'm starting to really agree with your feeling about me and a buncha people... and, yeah, me alone with just enough internet to do research and mail folks stuff... Yeah. That feels a lot closer to what would really make me happy.
I don't think Clarion would be a good thing for you.

You express the need for mentoring and for thoughtful readers to tell you about the writing, not about the content, and in a format that (as you noted) Clarion does not address.

You will HURT yourself if you try to do Clarion at this point. It's six weeks of no-safeword-allowed enforced intimacy with strangers and with a requirement that you be exactly as bloody minded to them as they are to you. You do not get to negotiate the terms of engagement; the workshop format does that, and it's a fierce experience, like going into a tiger cage wearing a raw meat bikini.
If, as you mention, you have issues with proceeding past a "good enough" level in any skill, then consider that one of the things that Clarion does is to grab your desire to write, pin it down on a biologist's wax pan, and surgically dissect every part of that desire looking for weaknesses to expose to the merciless sunlight.
This is not to say that any of the participants do this to others as a matter of course, but it seems to be a side effect, commented on by everyone I have spoken to who has attended a Clarion West.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, back when Pulphouse was still going, spoke at an Orycon about Clarion, and said that one of the biggest dangers of Clarion was that it could burn out the desire to write. Some not-small portion of the attendants simply lost any desire to write, at all, not just short-fiction. The ones who come back after a time, or who never lose their desire, are generally improved as writers, and a good number of those do manage to be published.

You can get a sense of "Clarion" by signing up for one of the Clarion-style writing workshops at any medium to large convention, and I suggest you do that before you try the full blown thing. (I hope you've already done that, in fact. Our story critique back in Dragon's Inn days was very much like a diluted, child-safe version of the Clarion technique that I experienced in one of those workshops at the Westercon in Bellingham. If that was strong stuff, the actual workshop is not just the undiluted adult version, but it's a six week long binge.)

I know you can configure yourself to find the strength to endure this, even to do it well, but do you want to do that? What would it do to the equilibrium you have built, and what would it take for the outcome to be a good one? Who would you be at the end?
*nods* about doing the one-day workshops.

That sounds like a great idea...

... and you're entirely right. I *could* reconfigure myself to "take it" like I reconfigure myself to take just about anything. But is that what I really want?

*hugs* And thank you for trying to make sure I don't hurt myself, I really appreciate that a lot.
This... Is interesting to read, honestly (and than I do include the comments above in that).

I think you have the right reasons not to go to Clarion West, right there (much as it would be awesome on a stick). If being around people for a long time is a no no for you, I don't think this would be your kind of thing. And if Clarion West focuses on short stories and you want to do a novel, that wouldn't work for even more reasons. In my humble opinion a novel and a short story are, beyond both being stories, completely different things.

Those pictures are so. Amazingly. BEAUTIFUL! *loves*
The best part about blogging, the informed comments responding to the post itself. I love the comments here, too. It's really teaching me a lot.

Thank you for your opinion, too!! Yeah... it's an interesting thought, all in all... and working through this is making me a bit clearer on what it is I really do want to do.

Thanks!! About the pictures. They're fun. And it's cool when people write me to ask if they can publish my pictures, too... Hee. Flickr is good that way.